Yesterday I went to listen to Moushumi Bhowmik and Satyaki Banerjee, who organise a Baul festival in Calcutta, and came to present their work at the School of Arts and Aesthetics in JNU. They were fabulous. Somewhere the syncretistic culture of music has always been profound, and listeners and singers share in a long history of the tapestry of time. The previous evening, Bombay Jaishree Ramnath had calmed the audience with her lullaby to Krishna which was drawn from the folk traditions and adapted to Carnatik music by her team and herself. How amazing to be able to move between these different worlds; to inform and educate at the same time through the intensity of one's emotions and passions.
Moushumi spoke about a woman fakir who travelled between Bangladesh and India, without papers, without identity kit of any kind, travelling in trains and buses, going from site to site, pilgrimage hub to periphery singing her songs, and bringing music from these different places into her repertoire. Against the notion of terror, is the concept of mystical music which crosses boundaries.
When we think of maps, we often imagine them as even and still landscapes, as we see them in textbooks, government maps, newspapers or digital presentations, unfolding for our use as we make our journeys real or surreal across the web of time and space. It's people who make maps what they really are. Music informs us of this ability they have to create bridges, and in the new world, electronic aspects become the key to sharing and innovative. Many years ago, Shankar Baruah established a base in Sattal for creative artists to meet, and electronic and eversions were the repertoire that young people and some elders brought to the site, where they embraced the concept of the momentary passion of hearing, with the long history of technologisation and art.
But the momentary is the base of the formation of memory. Who can forget Kishori Amonkar's grandeur? Or the lustre of M.S Subbulakshmi. The two combine in Bombay Jaishree, whose composure and joy are all her own. Archivalising music however, is on a completely different plane. For Sociologists, the film and the tape recorder are emerging as the most important ways of thinking about the present. For the School of Arts and Aesthetics, it is their very discipline, and subsumed within its everyday palette of methods.
Musicians bring to us the ability to create worlds which are different from the one we know, primarily because they are working with experience, the most intimate of our sensations. What do we feel, how can their ardour, and intensity of feeling make us change the way in which we think about the world? For them theologies and technologies are only ways of reaching that assimilative space, where they are one with the cosmos and with people. My former neighbours Anurpriya Deotale, and Mukesh, used to fill the corridors with their music and it spilled out of their house at all odd hours, violin and sarod, separately or together. They moved on, but the memory of those years when they were experimenting together were significant spaces for their friends. Sometimes, the idea that the work people do is intensely for themselves, and yet, in sharing it, it becomes something else is the most profound space for the performer. In giving, they become one with the audience. Moushumi and her colleagues
while singing, communicate that going to Baghdad or going to Nizamuddin Auliya can be a singular moment for the Baul fakir. And it is in that vedantic moment, that Indians have been consumed, whether it is historically notated or not. For me, Arunachala and Ramanasramam, in Tiruvannamalai become the space of the still heart. The mind is free, and whatever the political conditions people will think for themselves.
In secular India, the freedom to believe has always been a constitutional right, and when the pathologies of self definition raise themselves in violence and corruption, the citizens do evolve ways by which these can be controlled. Democracy is the right to free expression, but when religion, to which music is so inextricably linked by its somatic power, turns depraved, then freedom to practise becomes a question in itself. Leela Samson and Ira Bhaskar, resigning from the Censor Board is a powerful moment which communicates how democracies respond when authority is bypassed, and the whipping up of incendiary emotions is thought to be the right of politicians and cult leaders.
Yesterday night I heard the cult music of the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, Ram Rahim Singh Insan on tv, and thought, this is like the American cults of drugs and death in the early 70s. They were terrifying to read about, for books were written about it, as people, specially young people were murdered or committed suicide in the company of these cult leaders who fed on a particular kind of abysmal devotion of unsuspecting adulation. So that's what makes syncretism by itself interesting to study, since the Human Rights Questions of the right to life and dignity are always at the forefront.